Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Platinum includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Aliya S. King. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Journalist Alex Sampson Maxwell has received a plum assignment, writing a feature on the real lives of hip-hop wives for Vibe magazine. The problem is, she is also ghostwriting the tell-all memoir of Cleo Wright, a video vixen known for sleeping with their husbands. As Alex delves into their world, she uncovers the not-so-glamorous realities of these dutiful women. There’s Beth, pregnant while trying to keep her rapper husband Z off drugs and fielding calls from his many mistresses as his career tanks; Kipenzi, Beth’s best friend who is set on retiring after an illustrious but exhausting singing career to settle down with Jake, a multi-platinum artist; and Josephine, desperate to have a baby despite her hip-hop husband Ras’ cheating. Alex, secretly engaged to up-and-coming artist Birdie, wonders if she will suffer a similar fate in a money-fueled world of public scandal and private shame.
Questions for Discussion
1. What is the common reason the women offer for why they have stayed with their cheating husbands? What do you think of their reasoning?
2. Cleo claims she wasn’t in the business for the money, so what do you think motivated her to engage in affairs with so many artists?
3. Why do you think Alex was able to overcome Birdie’s indiscretions and marry him anyway? Would you make the same choice?
4. Throughout the novel, Alex is worried about her projects being conflicts of interest. Which situation do you think posed the biggest moral dilemma?
5. Privacy is a consistent theme of the book, and a commodity hard to come by in the world of these characters. In what ways does it manifest itself through the novel? Why do you think Kipenzi and Jake went through so much extra effort to keep their relationship a secret?
6. Cleo tells Alex that they have a lot in common. Do you agree? Which two characters do you feel were the most similar and why?
7. Josephine tells Alex she would give up her lavish lifestyle for a simple family life. Discuss the price of fame and fortune in the world Platinum depicts.
8. Why were the wives so forthcoming with Alex? What was their motivation for exposing their personal lives?
9. From Z’s drug abuse to Bunny’s temper and jealousy, many of the characters cause harm to themselves. Who do you feel is the most self-destructive person in the book? What drives them to it? Who is the biggest enabler of bad behavior?
10. Among the men in the novel, who do you think has the most potential for redemption? Who seems the most set in his ways?
11. How do you see Beth’s marriage affecting her children, both in the present and long-term?
12. Z believes his future daughter will save his life; while Josephine is convinced her grandmother cursed her marriage. What makes these characters so superstitious?
13. The novel ends with a mystery about Josephine’s newly adopted daughter. What are some possibilities for how the baby came into her life?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Go to the author’s website, aliyasking.com. Read her blog, and send her a note about your book club’s discussion.
2. Visit the online version of Vibe, vibe.com, to get a better background of the magazine featured prominently in Platinum.
3. Platinum is billed as a roman-a-clef. Have fun speculating who in today’s music scene may have inspired the antics in the book. Who would play each character in the novel’s hypothetical movie version?
4. Aliya S. King previously co-authored Keep the Faith, about the life of singer Faith Evans (wife of the late Notorious B.I.G.). Read the memoir and note any similarities between Evans’ story and the hip-hop wives in Platinum.
5. Play some of your favorite hip-hop songs during your group’s discussion – it will help set the mood and get the conversations flowing!
A Conversation with Aliya S. King
1. How true to life are the characters in Platinum? Do you think the novel will “out” any of the characters’ real-world counterparts?
The characters are composites of several different celebrities. Some people will think they recognize certain people but actually, the real inspirations are different. It’s a fun guessing game. I don’t think anyone would necessarily be outed. Many of the scenarios and plot points are based on things that have been covered in news outlets. It’s like a Law and Order episode! You kind of know what the background is but not necessarily.
2. What are your views on the treatment of women in the music industry, specifically in hip-hop?
Hip-hop is primarily made by men, about men, for men. The treatment of women has always been troublesome in ways. But some women feel empowered by the roles they play in hip-hop. Is Cleo treated badly? That’s a matter of opinion. She would say no. What do you think?
3. How much is Alex’s character based on your own experiences as a journalist?
Alex is pretty much me. Full stop. If it was possible to sue one’s self for libel, I’d have an air tight case. ;)
4. What are your thoughts on the similarity between Cleo’s tell-all book and Karrine Steffans’ 2005 bestselling memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen?
I was definitely intrigued by Karrine’s book. Why would she write it? When did she decide to do it? Was she afraid of retribution? Did she go into that lifestyle with the intent of writing a book? There were many women before her who were promiscuous with rappers. But they didn’t keep mementos and take copious notes. Although Cleo is much different from Karrine in many ways, I was definitely influenced by Karrine’s book.
5. In what ways were your storylines based on recent media coverage – for example, how was Zander and Bunny’s tumultuous relationship affected by the scandal between singers Rihanna and Chris Brown?
Zander and Bunny were actually late additions to the manuscript. I knew I wanted to write a part two to PLATINUM and I wanted younger characters to have a place in this book so that they could grow in the next. Their volatile relationship, believe it or not, preceded the Chris Brown/Rihanna incident by weeks.
6. What is the biggest difference between the subjects you’ve interviewed over the years and the fictional characters in Platinum?
The biggest difference between the subjects I’ve interviewed is that they seem to mask themselves from pain. They are constantly surrounded by yes-men, use alcohol and various drugs to escape reality and are not always as confident and cocky as you imagine a rapper to be. They can be sweet and sensitive too.
7. The novel alludes to Alex’s unsavory past, but never goes into detail other than the fact that she is a recovering alcoholic. How do you envision her previous behavior?
I envision Alex’s previous life as a hell of a lot of fun—with dire consequences and a last minute chance for redemption.
8. If Alex’s article had been published as it was originally written, what do you think the fallout would have been among the characters?
I think Beth would have been devastated to see her life in print. It could have affected her relationship with Kipenzi forever. I think the story would actually have brought Josephine and Ras closer together. It would have been closure for them.
9. How has the hip-hop industry changed from the 1990s era discussed in your previous book Keep the Faith, and the present day in which Platinum is set?
Things are very similar to the 90s era in which Keep the Faith was set. The most popular artists still stick together and hang out exclusively with one another. There is still a lot of groupie action going on and marriages are tenuous at best.
10. Most of your characters have rags to riches stories. What affects do sudden wealth and fame have on their psyche?
I think many of my characters (especially the women) feel some guilt about the excess. They don’t have their own careers, except Kipenzi, and they depend on their men for everything. I think they all would rather have time with their partners than expensive homes and gifts.
11. Why did you choose to depict only the sinister side of the industry?
I like the dark side of everything. What fun is there in writing about the good stuff? ;) No, really, what I saw in the world of hip-hop wives was dark. Very dark. I had to keep the feeling true to what I felt when I was interviewing rapper’s wives back in 2006. Are there redeeming qualities? I’m not so sure. I’d have to live the life to know. For someone like Beth? I’d say no. For Kipenzi, maybe…
12. You end the novel with a cliffhanger about the origins of Josephine’s adopted baby. Are there any plans to write a sequel?
YES! Part Two, tentatively titled Diamond Life, is almost done! I took a break from writing to answer these questions so let me get back to work!